What is social learning?

In social learning theory, learning is understood to be a chain of events involving people engaging with each other which leads to a change in something they care about.  The most well known model of social learning is that of a ‘community of practice’,  a term coined by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave in the 1980’s in their research observing how traditional skills are taught and passed on in traditional West African societies.  

A community of practice is defined as a group of people (the community) who all share a common passion or challenge (referred to as the domain) and who, through engaging with each  regularly, develop a practice to solve the problem.  A good example of a community of practice is a chess club.  The community is the members of the chess club.  The domain is ‘understanding chess’.  Through playing each other the members learn the practice of chess ie. how set up the board, how the pieces move, opening moves, strategies etc.  

Another recent example of a community of practice is that of Extinction Rebellion.  The community all share a passion or concern for how the future will be affected by climate change and biodiversity loss.  The main domain might be described as ‘how to change government policy on climate change and biodiversity loss’ or ‘how to raise awareness of climate change and biodiversity loss’.  The practice includes understanding non-violent direct action, protest strategies and techniques etc.  

While some communities of practice form naturally, an understanding of social learning theory can be applied to facilitate and manage their development and efficacy.

My training days designed to facilitate the development of a community of practice and involves the following elements to achieve this:

  • Social interaction is encouraged by seating delegates in groups rather than rows

  • Practical enjoyable activities and discussions form the majority of the content

  • Reflective practice encourages delegates to rethink their practice

  • World Cafe style discussions to encourage new connections and networks between delegates